Today’s news that the administrators put in charge of Caterham F1 Team are putting the remaining assets at the team up for auction has met a very sad reaction from the sport’s community.
That said, few can say they are surprised. Ever since the team’s final hurrah in Abu Dhabi, lead administrator Finbarr O’Connell has faced a race against time to find buyers for the flailing outfit.
In reality, it was a fight that he was never likely to win. If investors are desperate to find a way to get into F1 for 2015, then Marussia – who entered administration at the same time as Caterham – has always been the more attractive package. It may only have finished ninth in the constructors’ championship, but the prize money this brings does give it more value. It is for this reason that it is now preparing to exit administration as talks with buyers continue in a bid to get it on the grid for 2015.
Ironically, today is also D-Day for Marussia as the remaining nine F1 teams meet in Paris to discuss the future of the sport. They will get a say on whether the Anglo-Russian outfit – set to be called Manor Grand Prix in the event of a comeback – can return to racing. It has been stripped to the bare bones with many of its assets being auctioned off, but there is still a heartbeat. Caterham has flatlined and the DNR has been issued, it seems.
The debate surrounding Marussia does present something of a quagmire for three teams in particular: Lotus, Force India and Sauber. All three have encountered some kind of financial problems in the past eighteen months, and even threatened to boycott the United States Grand Prix back in November over the cost crisis engulfing the sport.
That trio was looking out for the smaller teams. That was their crusade. However, by welcoming Marussia back, they could in fact be spurning the chance for some much-needed income ahead of the new season.
In F1, prize money is awarded to the top ten finishers in the constructors’ championship (hence why Caterham, 11th in 2013 and 2014, is an unattractive investment opportunity). On the basis that Marussia were to return for 2015, there would be ten teams, so each would have 10% of the pie up for grabs – that is a base rate, of course, with further prize money depending on performance in the championship.
However, if Marussia were to not return, then the nine racing teams would theoretically have 11.1% of the pie each. An extra 1.1% may not seem like much, but that does add up to many, many millions.
And they’re much-needed millions for Lotus, Force India and Sauber.
Lotus was on the brink of financial collapse at the end of 2013, but has since been propped up by Pastor Maldonado’s backing from Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA. With the price of oil plummeting though, it is likely that any extra income at Lotus would be welcomed.
Force India seemed to be okay, given that it has signed a number of new Mexican sponsors ahead of the new season. However, it missed the first test in Jerez and will not be taking the new 2015 car to Barcelona, meaning it will have just four days of running before the new season. We haven’t even seen a picture of the new VJM08 yet, for that matter.
Sauber’s financial status has again been aided by the arrival of Felipe Nasr and his sponsor, Banco do Brasil, but the C34 car was noticeably bare of sponsors during the first test. It too faced financial meltdown at the end of 2013 only to fight on, and again, more money would be welcomed.
So what can these three teams do? Stick to their morals and fight for the little guy, or put their own interests first and help themselves to a bigger slice of pie?
This is the debate that will rage on in Paris today at their meeting. It would be tremendous for the sport to see Marussia/Manor back racing in 2015, even if it is with a 2014-spec car without a hope of points.
Should it also collapse though, we will have seen the new intake of 2010 – HRT, Caterham and Marussia – all disappear within five years. It’s a damning reflection of F1’s internal crises.
F1 is known as the ‘piranha club’ for a reason…